Pools Winners

Article excerpt

Byline: Val Bourne

Peter and Vera Short and their son Stephen, 39, live in a chocolate-box cottage with a low-thatched roof. The south-facing three-acre garden at Longthatch in Hampshire, with its five spring-fed pools, slopes gently down to the River Meon where streaks of electric blue are a common sight as kingfishers dart upstream.

Peter, 65, and Vera, 62, celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last month and have lived here all their married life. Peter was a farm manager until he retired in 1993.

Their garden has been lovingly built with hard work and devotion over many years, making Longthatch one of the most popular gardens in Hampshire.

Last year it attracted more than 2,000 visitors. It opens under the National Gardens Scheme, but also opens privately on Wednesdays during the spring and summer.

Longthatch is famous for its hellebores and they hold a back-up collection for the NCCPG. In spring, whole areas of the garden are full of these nodding flowers in shades of slate black, reddish-purple, pale pink, green, yellow and white. But the garden is lovely throughout the year.

Do you have good soil?

Very good. In the main part of the garden its marvellous - very light and friable. Weve used a lot of mushroom compost and dung over the years. Where was your first garden?

Before coming here, Vera lived in Botley, Hampshire, and I lived in Winchester. But this was our first garden.

Were your families interested in gardening?

My father lived here before we were married and although he enjoyed the garden, he wasn't a fanatic like us. Our son Stephen services the mowers, but he isn't very interested in plants.

How did you learn about gardening?

As a farmer I didn't have a lot of time, and I've really only become interested in gardening in the past 15 or 20 years. About 12 years ago we picked up a Hardy Plant Society leaflet when we were on holiday in Yorkshire and we have never looked back. We also did an RHS course at Swanmore, run by Sparsholt College.

Do you visit many other gardens or nurseries?

Every year when we go on holiday we put a dot on the Plantfinder map, draw a circle, and visit all the nurseries in that area. We usually end up buying about 70 or 80 plants. If we see a plant we haven't got, we just have to have it.

How much time do you spend in the garden?

I play golf once a month, but other than that I spend all my time in the garden. It is my life now. I sit on various committees such as the executive committee of the Hardy Plant Society. But I start every morning at nine o' clock and treat it as a full-time job. Vera spends a lot of time out here in the spring and summer. She looks after the herbaceous borders, dividing and potting up plants to sell.

Do you have a favourite job in the garden?

I love propagating and I grow lots of things from seed which I get from the Hardy Plant and the Alpine Garden Society. …